Recently Lloyd, UK Games Expo’s Games on Demand extraordinaire, pointed out that my usual 40 minutes to one-hour explanation of the game’s setting doesn’t hack it as a quick and fast intro to a table full of expectant players. To avoid Lloyd’s displeasure in the future, and provide a smoother introduction for my players in the future I came up with this introduction. Its already been used to great success during my convention games at Continuum 2018.
This quick intro while tailor-made for Convention games (which last 3-4 or even less) or quick 1hour demos, can also serve you well as the introduction with your home group to quick one-shots or even an introduction for a full multi-session game of Monkey.
These checklists are presented as bullet points which you should be able to move through quickly.
1. Give a Quick Explanation of the Game Setting
- The game world is a heady mix of Chinese religion and mythology, set in the reign of the 2nd Emperor of the Tang Dynasty in 8th century China.
- The player characters are immortals. In Chinese Folk Religion this could mean that your character is a Celestial Deity up in Western Heaven, an earthly animal spirit, a deity responsible for the day to day running of some aspect of Earth, a Transcended Master or even a Demon (one of the ‘good’ ones from the Ten Courts of Hell). (see Origin)
- All the immortals where part of the Celestial Bureaucracy that runs the Universe, until their Weakness caused them to be thrown out.
- They are now working as troubleshooters for various immortal patrons, to redeem themselves and regain their place back in Heaven.
- The source of many of these troubles is wicked Demons, who prey upon innocent humans and want to eat holy people.
2.Set up the Table
- Take one set of playing cards for the players and place them on the table near them. Ask one of the players to shuffle the deck, take out any spare cards and make sure there is only one joker.
- Put the Narrator’s deck down between them and you. Shuffle the pack (or ask one of the players to do it).
- Explain that when the outcome is less than clear, you will call for an Action, and the players involved will draw cards from the player’s deck, while you do the same for the opposition. You will play your highest card first so that the players can see what they need to beat.
See page 227 of Monkey for an example table set up.
3. Determine Spotlight and hand out the pre-made characters
- Determine who starts with the spotlight (see Monkey page 119). Give them an item that clearly shows they have the spotlight. I’ve used a Chinese Fortune Cat statue, a small box of my business cards, an oversized D20 and when I remember a lovely knitted Monkey that my friend and fellow Monkey Narrator Gwen made for me, as my table’s Spotlight Marker.
- Pass out the pre-made characters. I usually give them a brief one sentence summing up of each immortal. The person with the spotlight gets to choose first, with the player next getting
- Run through the Immortal sheet, to show the elements that player Immortals are made out of:
- A Name. This takes the form of a nickname in English.
- Origin. How they became immortal.
- Two Attitudes. One the more active forceful Yang force, and one for the more reactive subtle Yin force.
- Weakness. That gets them into trouble and what got them chucked out of Western Heaven.
- Three Skills. These are the character’s broad skill sets. The number is the base number of cards they draw from the deck when performing an action.
- A set of Magical Powers.
- A Magical Weapon or Tool.
Details to Leave Out During the Set-Up
These elements of the game I’ve found really drag out the introduction. You can cover them if the players ask, but really you should take a “show not tell” attitude and deeper explanation should come out in play when needed.
- Detailed setting information. Such as the precise set up of Western Heaven, the hierarchy of the Jade Emperor and Queen Mother of the West, through the Ministries. Likewise how the Celestial Bureaucracy works on Earth, and how the Ten Courts of Hell infernal workings.
- Using the Journey to the West as an example. It’s tempting to use Monkey and the rest of the Pilgrims’ adventures as a set of ready-made What I’ve found is that that there is a range of player knowledge of the Novel (some don’t know anything, some have seen one of the TV series, and some are in-depth scholars), so as well as the temptation to over explain myself I have to fill in the gaps based upon the table’s collective knowledge. So it’s not as straightforward as I think it should be.
- An overly complicated explanation of Yin/Yang. Keep it deliberately simple, and let explanation come out in game.
- A detailed explanation of the game system, beyond what is quickly explained during the run-through of the character sheet.
A couple of weekends ago it was time for the biannual Continuum gaming convention at Leicester University in their lovely leafy student village in Oadby.
Arrived safe and sound just after lunch after a faultless drive down from the North of England, with driver Lynn avoiding the traffic jam as long-distance commuters return to the south for the weekend. Quickly unloaded the car and set up the Magic Stall, which was selling our games all weekend, upstairs in Room D101 where we were running games for the entire weekend. A quick chat to a few folk and then it was time for the first of my Monkey games.
This game is going to be in the Monkey Companion. It’s a short game, designed to run in 2-3 hours. If you are familiar with the Quickstart adventure If you see Buddha on the Road, it’s a similar sort of length.
In this adventure the Pilgrims were deep a vast Bamboo forest in the wilderness, travelling towards India. The players dealt with an isolated village of scared villagers, a group of falsely accused forest spirits and the fire-starting demons who were behind the destruction of the bamboo. Giant firebreathing Demons were bested and sent to the 10 Courts of Hell for judgement by King Yama (there was a suggestion that they would find gainful employment there punishing the wicket). Triumphant, the Pilgrims, continued with their Journey to the West.
After the game, one of the players Lloyd challenged me to reduce the hour-long monologue I currently use to introduce the game to a blindingly fast ten minutes. I was thinking along these lines, and I regularly introduce the nuts and bolts of the game online in concise terms, so challenge accepted!
Journeying West (again) seminar
Unfortunately, there had been a bit of a mix-up, and I thought I was doing this Making of Monkey 2 talk on Saturday night. So I had to think fast, change track ( I thought I was running Monkey at the table again) and present this talk, to a small but attentive crowd. Despite going off on one and telling one of my favourite Kung Fu stories I managed to keep it within the hour time limit, with time for questions at the end!
Also of note, Dan Barker ran a Monkey-Glorantha crossover, “Monkey ruins – Everything” which he’s writing up for a future issue of Hearts in Glorantha. Apparently, there was much fun Monkey-Business 😊
After a much-needed breakfast at the venue and a walk to stretch the legs and quieten the mind, I was ready for the morning session of Monkey.
Hopping Vampire Mayhem
I opened up with the new improved and to the point 10-minute pitch to the game, which I’ll share as a download when I’ve written it up (check back next Monday). Not only did it save my voice, but it got the players hot and ready to go!
This is another adventure that is going in the Monkey Companion later this year, and it’s another 2-3 hour standalone. A dusty town and with a plague of one-legged undead was what greeted the foot store pilgrims. After rescuing a small girl from her undead granny, the party had a quick chat with the assist mortician who advised them to find his master, a Taoist Sorcerer, who had gone into the forest surrounding the town in the direction of the mountains to the west. Despite blundering about the Pilgrims found the Sorcerer, who promptly told them the source of the dead was an old tomb of a local king which had been disturbed by his ex-wife, who he had foolishly taught the magic arts to before she promptly ran off to do evil acts for personal gain. The ex-wife was guarding the entrance to the King’s tomb, sitting atop a magic mountain made of coffins. Supercharged with magical energy, pulled up from the Earth using the art of Feng-Shui, the Sorcerer told the Pilgrims that if they wanted her out of the way, they needed to gather up wood from the surrounding forest so that the Sorcerer could build a taller magic mountain than his ex-wife’s. A quick scrabbling for wood by the characters and minutes later a quick build by the Sorcerer and he had indeed a more prominent Magic Mountain which blew his ex-wife into bits! The Pilgrims then ran into the tomb, where hopping corpses assaulted them and after brushing them aside dealt with the Chief Vampire and his guards. Clemency was called for, as the Pilgrims sensed correctly that the villainous Ex-Wife had raised the King and his attendants, and the adventure ended with the tormented spirits peacefully being released into Heaven.
A quick lunch of Veggie Burger and Chips from the main dining hall, which was adequate to put hunger at bay, and then it was time for…
The Mega Monkey!
This afternoon game was our second time out with the three table version of the MM running the Mandate of Heaven. Except we only ran Heaven (Lynn) and Hell (myself) because John who was due to run Earth was not feeling well and retired for a well needed afternoon nap. A longer more involved game, with both tables running the full four hours, than the two sessions I ran before it. It was also uncomfortably hot. I usually schedule comfort breaks every forty-five minutes, but here it was every 15-20 minutes, to ensure people didn’t pass out from the heat! We got through the game, and it was to the player’s credit that they were enjoying themselves enough to soldier on through the heat. Both tables had fun, with loud roars of laughter coming from Lynn’s Heaven table at regular intervals and the report that the players were keen to play on the other tables at some point.
For tea, I and regular d101 helper Guy Milner had a walk up to Oadby town centre to go to a local curry house and have a well-earned break from the con. Then an evening socialising and staying up waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too late.
Was a quieter day since I wasn’t running Monkey. I got to play in Guy’s Blade In the Dark game, which was ace. There was Monkey being run, If you see Buddha on the Road run by Gwen Mott in the afternoon and by the big smiling faces I encountered later as I came up after it had finished to tear down the D101 Magic stall it went well. I was busy chilling out, catching up with old friends and making sure the last of the modest pile of Monkey that I brought with me found their homes.
Then it was the Closing Ceremony and quick drive home up the M1 to Oldham, just in time to put my children to bed.
Overall Continuum was brilliant. I’ve not been for a good six years due to the family commitments, but this year I wanted to do it to celebrate Monkey’s release in a big way. I feel I this did in a big way, and with 7 Hills back in April and Furnace last year, where we ran the Mega Monkey for the first time, I feel that Monkey is back in a big way. It’s an easy fun game I can run at the drop of a hat, yet also supports more complex games like the Mandate of Heaven, and all I see is happy players in its aftermath.
I feel all shades of emotional. The release of the book is only the beginning. There will be convention games of it at Manchester Free RPG day, Continuum, Furnace and I’m planning something very very big for Dragonmeet
The New Legends of Monkey (Netflix 2018)
A complete retelling of the tale, to make it an action-packed if somewhat duller version of the epic. Not recommended if you want to watch a version that is 100% faithful to either the letter or spirit of the novel*
Today while writing for the Mandate of Heaven, a mega scenario pack for Monkey that also an expanded location guide for three locations in the Monkey-verse, I have wondered the streets of the Western Heaven, a city made of Jade and other precious gems and metals, inhabited by Chinese Immortals who run the universe.
I have visited the grand palace of the Jade Emperor, the magical residence of the Queen Mother of the West, her magical peach garden, the Forge of Lao Tzu, the Ministry of Thunder (responsible for dealing with supernatural criminals on Earth) and ended up in the Ministry of Records (where you can find the answer to any question as long as you don’t mind sifting through endless piles of scrolls). And any time I got lost I merely closed my eyes and found myself back at the Fountain of Dancing Phoenxies 🙂